This is the year we are supposed to finish our basement completely. It’s funny because about a week after posting about the basement ground breaking, readers started emailing me asking where they could see the after pictures. Yeah…we don’t work like that around here. There’s no crew behind the scenes churning out projects in a weekend. This is real life and we knew the complete basement remodel would realistically take us a few years, which is why we started before we thought we needed it.
Now all of a sudden we are halfway through the year it’s supposed to be done and we didn’t do anything in the basement for the first half of the year.
I think there are two main reasons:
- Most of the space—the family room, my office, the home gym, and the playroom—were already livable.
- Everything else left to do was daunting. Every time I thought about what was left to finish, the list felt too big. I couldn’t decide what to do next, budget-wise or time-wise.
In the first few years of this project we made huge strides, we hired a contractor to do plumbing, electrical, framing, and drywall. Then we painted the walls, installed cork flooring, and had carpet installed. We continued right in step decorating all the living areas. We transformed this once barren cement slab into some of our most favorite areas in the home. But there were still a few big projects to tackle…
The last phase includes everything else and the kitchen sink (well a wet bar sink anyway). Everything else included installing interior doors, a large wet bar, and finishing the bathroom. Not only are each of those things a big project in their own right, but they also are types of projects we’ve never tackled before. So when we got to the last phase our project came to a screeching halt.
Just a few weeks ago we started making major progress again. Now we are nearly finished with the wet bar area and super motivated to finish the rest. Take a look…less than a month ago this corner was empty.
1. Take Charge of the Outcome
I’ll admit our basement progress stopped because I stopped managing it. I had done a lot of the work up to that point solo and I got burnt out. Without anyone taking the lead and moving the project forward, nothing happened.
I also felt overwhelmed by the final phase. It was too much to tackle all at once and most of the smaller tasks were too much to do by myself. I can’t move base cabinets by myself, hang a door with only two hands, or install a toilet. So everything just felt like too much.
The problem: I was thinking with my worker hat on. What I needed was put my project manager hat.
I needed to step back and re-evalaute the situation. How could I re-plan this phase to make it doable? How could I schedule things so the help I need, like a second pair of hands, is available? How could I get this project moving again?
Taking charge—it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Okay, it’s not that dirty. It can actually be kind of fun. It doesn’t matter if you have family and friends helping you or if you’re tackling a project solo, someone needs to be the boss. To finish on time, within budget, and exactly the way you want, you have to be the project manager and take responsibility for the outcome.
So, I put my project manager hat back on and got serious.
2. Work on One Thing at a Time
Don’t be the person that starts a million projects, but never finishes one. I know it feels like you’re being productive when you have a bunch of things started, but doesn’t it also feel a bit chaotic? Like you can never actually relax at home? You’ll feel much more at ease and be far more motivated to complete more projects once you’ve successfully finished one entire project.
My downfall in the basement wasn’t actually starting a bunch of different projects, but rather thinking about a bunch of different projects. I completely lacked focus. I was looking at the full list of things left to do, rather than focusing on just the next project.
So once you’ve got your project manager hat on, you still have to decide what to work on. If you really want to get anything done in your home, you need to focus on one thing. What should you focus on? Your MIP…that is, your Most Important Project. Once you know what your MIP is (which we’ll talk about next) you need to put all of your energy into it. It should be the only thing you work on—your sole focus.
This was my failure in the basement. I hadn’t decided which project to do next. I needed to find my MIP—the one project to focus on first. In all the other phases of the basement, this was easy. Framing has to happen before drywall. Painting the walls came before flooring. The cork floor had to be in place before the carpet could be installed.
But then we got stuck. What should we do next? Should we install doors and finish the trim? Build the wet bar? Or finish the bathroom? None of them are dependent on the each other, so there is no right answer. Or is there?
3. Know that You Can’t Do It All, So Do This Instead
How do you find your MIP when you have a laundry list of projects?
Well, it’s something you do everyday…
At work if your boss gives you too many things to do all at once, what do you do? You prioritize and pick the most important work to focus on first.
At home if your kids and husband are pulling you in a million different directions…
“Mom, soccer starts in 15 minutes!”
“Honey, my meeting ran long I am just leaving work now. Can you make dinner?”
“Mommy, help I need to go potty.”
What do you do? You prioritize and figure out what’s most important to deal with first.
When you have a million ideas to improve your home, but aren’t sure where to start, what do you do?
To figure out what to do next, you have to take that long list of ideas and decide which ones really deserve your focus. In my new book Project Home, I share a tool called the Project Prioritization Matrix, which is designed to help you more objectively evaluate all the possibilities for your home. The best part is prioritizing is an activity you can do with your whole family. When you’re done everyone is sure to agree on which project is the most important.
We put the remaining projects on our basement to-do list through the Project Prioritization Matrix and the wet bar came out on top. We realized we weren’t using the family room to its fullest, because we didn’t have snacks and drinks down there…not even water. So clearly, finishing the wet bar was going to make the biggest improvement first.
And that’s when everything changed. We found our focus—our MIP. More importantly during the process of prioritizing, we discovered why the wet bar was so important. Prioritizing our projects forced us to think about which one had the most value in terms of improving our quality of life. Once you know that, it’s kind of hard to put that project off anymore. We got started on the wet bar the next day.
You can read about the Project Prioritization Matrix in the book and along with the book I share a bonus worksheet and bonus video showing you exactly how to us it. It’s like getting a workshop with the book because I believe in this process that much. It will bring clarity to your crazy list of to-dos and help you get unstuck in your home.
But don’t take my word for it….
Now I am happy to report our basement finishing is back on track and should be done later this year. Those three habits that helped us get unstuck and start making progress again were:
- Take charge of the outcome – Be the project manager and take responsibility for the project.
- Work on one thing at a time – You can’t get anywhere if you’re going a million different directions at once. Your most important project should have your sole focus and resources.
- Know that you can’t do it all, so do this instead – Prioritize all the possibilities to find what your most important project is, then see #2.
For our basement project we had to pause and take a step back from doing the work in the basement to plan how to get the rest of the work done. Then, we had to break up the last phase into smaller projects so we could focus on one at a time. Finally, the most important step was choosing which of those projects to focus on first. Now we are more than halfway through our wet bar installation—our most important project to improve our basement living space.
There isn’t an instruction manual for creating a home, but I might have the next best thing.
I’ve married more than seven years of professional project management experience with over twelve years of homeownership experience to bring you a field guide for successfully finishing projects in your home. Get Project Home now.
Free Video Class: Home Styling 101
Learn how to arrange your home decor like a pro. I'm sharing my best styling tips in this free video series with cheat sheets.